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June Webinar Schedule

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Check out this month's webinars from your health plans, wellbeing vendors, and Employee Assistance Programs.(EAP) Canopy (not for OSU) and Beyond Benefits (OSU only). Learn about:
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Psychological Safety
  • Buying your first investment property
  • Fertility health for LGBTQ+Image of March webinar schedule
  • Getting everyone through the summer

Click here, or on the image below to view this month's webinar schedule.

New state employees be sure to check out Uplift Oregon's workshop “Uplift your Benefits." This workshop is designed to help state employees make the most of your new benefits. Not currently available for university members.

  • Moda members join June's 10-day Step It Up Challenge.
  • Providence members join "Wellness for Everyone!" a six week series starting June 8 through July 13.
If a webinar interests you, be sure to sign-up before the webinar goes live. Even if you aren't able to attend, you will receive an email after the webinar is over that allows you to access the recording. Then you can watch it when and where you have time!


June Wellness and Benefits News

Allergy season is here!

img1-allergy-season.jpgIt’s the time of year when pollen flies and brings on sneezing, sniffling, and watery eyes. But not all allergies are seasonal. For some, allergies can be year-round and triggered by other factors. They can cause a variety of symptoms. Serious allergies can even make it difficult to breathe. 

Some people develop allergies as a child and eventually outgrow them. Others never outgrow them. And some even develop allergies as an adult.

No matter the type of allergy, there are a variety of ways to manage your body’s response. In this edition, we cover what allergies are and ways to keep your symptoms at bay.

What are allergies?

img2-what.jpgAn allergy is your immune system’s reaction to a foreign substance, called an allergen. Allergens can include something you eat, inhale, touch, or inject. Allergies can cause your body to respond in uncomfortable ways.

If you have allergies, you’re not alone. More than 50 million people in the U.S. have seasonal allergies each year. In fact, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. 1 

Most people with allergies have more than one type.
  • Allergies come in many forms, such as:
  • Environmental (seasonal, mold, pets, pollen, ragweed, etc.)
  • Drug (penicillin or other antibiotics, aspirin, etc.)
  • Food (dairy, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, fish, corn, etc.)
  • Insect (bees, wasps, hornets, etc.)
  • Latex (latex gloves, balloons, Band-Aids, etc.)
And allergies can affect different body parts. Seasonal allergies typically affect your nose and sinuses. Drug allergies often affect your skin or breathing. Food allergies generally affect your intestinal tract or can cause headaches. And insect and latex allergies often make it difficult to breathe.

Allergies can develop at any time in your life. It’s common for children to have allergies that they eventually outgrow. Some allergies — such as to peanuts or shellfish — often last throughout a person’s life. In some areas of the country, adult-onset allergies are common. This is true in the Pacific Northwest. 

The best way to manage your allergies is to stay away from whatever is triggering them. But that’s not always possible. With serious allergies, you simply must avoid exposure to the allergen completely (e.g., peanuts, latex, insect bites). You may also need to always carry lifesaving medication with you. When avoiding the triggers isn’t possible, over-the-counter and prescription medications can help. However, they often come with side effects.

If you’re suffering with allergies, PEBB’s benefits can help. Your medical plan offers benefits to identify what’s causing your symptoms. Start with your primary doctor. For more severe allergies, your primary doctor might refer you to a specialist. Click here to view your PEBB benefits for primary doctor and specialist visits.

You can also take medication or injections to help with allergies. If over-the-counter drugs aren’t enough, your PEBB prescription drug benefits offer coverage for certain allergy medications and injections. Click here to view your pharmacy benefits. You can visit your plan’s website to view the list of medications that are covered, which is called a formulary.

Allergy medications can help, but read the fine print 

img3-allergy-medication.jpgMedication can help manage your allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter drugs can be a useful solution for many people. Before you use anything, it’s a good idea to know the risks and potential side effects.
  • Allergy pills may cause dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, dilated pupils, blurred vision, and confusion.
  • Nasal sprays that contain a decongestant — such as Afrin — can lead to a tolerance. This means the more you use them, the more of the drug your body needs to get the same effect. For this reason, decongestant nasal sprays should be used only for a short time — typically no more than three days.
  • Eye drops might cause burning, stinging or irritation of your eye, headache, stuffy or runny nose, bad taste in your mouth, blurred vision, or increased sensitivity to light.
  • Steroid creams can cause itching, burning, redness, stretch marks, or spider veins. In addition, your skin might easily bruise or tear.
  • Inhalers may cause sore throat, hoarse voice, cough, nosebleeds, or oral thrush (fungal infection that causes white patches, redness, and sore mouth). 
If over-the-counter medications aren’t working for you, you may need to try different options before you find the right solution. Or ask your doctor if a prescription medication might work for you. You can also consider allergy shots, which can train your immune system to become less sensitive over time. Just know that prescription medications and injections come with side effects too. 

There isn’t a perfect option. Before you take any medication, research the pros and cons, and talk with your doctor so you understand the risks.

Tips to manage your seasonal allergies

img4-manage.jpgThe Pacific Northwest has some of the highest pollen counts in the U.S. This is especially true for alder trees and grasses. Even within Oregon’s cities, pollen counts can vary widely. They tend to be lower in places where there’s less vegetation, like Portland. In rural areas, pollen counts can be significantly higher. These are areas where there are more grasses, shrubs, and trees — especially evergreens.

Roughly 10%–30% of Oregonians suffer from allergies.2 It’s also common to develop them as an adult. Regardless of your age, here are tips to help reduce your allergies: 3,4
  • Watch the pollen counts — The amount of pollen in the air tends to be higher in the morning. It’s also high on hot, dry, and windy days. If possible, plan your time so you can avoid being outside when the pollen level is at its worst. Visit or download the app to view the current count in your area.
  • Limit pollen on your face — Wear an N95 face mask while doing yardwork. Wear a hat when you’re outside. Also, wash your face more often to prevent pollen from sticking around your nose.
  • Rinse your sinuses — Use a neti pot, bulb syringe, or squeeze bottle to squirt warm saline solution into your nasal cavity when your symptoms flare up. It can help clear out your sinuses, so you feel less stuffed up.
  • Reduce pollen in your home — Keep your doors and windows closed. Leave your shoes at the door. Change your clothes when you get home. Shower before going to bed. Don’t let your pets sleep with you since they might carry pollen on their coats. Vacuum your home weekly. Wash your sheets once a week in hot soapy water. Also, use the dryer instead of a clothesline. 
  • Improve the air quality in your home — Consider buying an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your bedroom. If your home has an air conditioner, use a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 11 or higher. These remove a higher percentage of allergens. 
Our area of the country is known for its beautiful, lush forests. Along with those come high pollen counts and allergies. Before you stock up on more tissues, know that PEBB’s medical and prescription drug plans are here to help you manage your allergies. If you’re suffering, take advantage of our benefits so that you can enjoy a sniffle-free spring and summer. 

2 RabbitAir, May 4, 2022
3 New York Times, April 21, 2022
4 Pediatric Northwest PS, March 31, 2014

Board member spotlight: Meet Greg Clouser

img5-greg-clouser.jpgAs the Board’s newest member, Greg Clouser hopes to represent the opinions of all PEBB members. He lives outside of the I-5 corridor and understands how members’ needs vary depending on location and type of work they do. For example, office employees might use their benefits differently than corrections officers who stand on concrete for up to 16 hours per day.

Originally from Ohio, Greg brings a unique background to the Board:
  • He currently works as a Correctional Corporal at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. He has held the position for 22 years.
  • He served as either the president or vice-president of his local union for about nine years.
  • He sat on an executive board for AFSCME Council 75 for about 14 years. While serving in that role, he helped to negotiate contracts with the state for about 12 years. When PEBB moved to a self-insured plan several years ago, Greg was involved in helping AFSCME members understand why there was a change and how it impacted members. He says, “Yes, we had great benefits before, but PEBB’s spending was out of control. We couldn’t keep going at that rate. Under the old plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield was pocketing a lot of our money.” 
  • He served on the PEBB Member Advisory Committee (PMAC) where he worked with the PEBB Board to influence their decisions.
In recent years, Greg expressed an interest in joining the Board. When a position opened up, he went through a three-month confirmation process. On February 15, 2022, he officially became a PEBB Board member. It’s a volunteer position, and his term will last four years.

Greg sees himself as an average person representing regular folks. He listens to reason. He didn’t come to the Board with an agenda. He just wants to make sure all PEBB members are represented when the Board makes decisions. “One of the biggest surprises since joining the Board is the cost of some medications. Just one or two members taking a high-cost medication can impact the overall insurance costs. The Board has to consider the pros and cons. Then, they can make decisions on which medications to cover so that the plan benefits the most members.”

Ultimately, Greg’s goal is to, “Keep high quality, good insurance at a low price for our members.” He understands people looking for jobs might find better salaries elsewhere. To that he says, “Look, we are the best employer in town because we have the best overall package. You might make four dollars more an hour somewhere else, but you’re going to pay much more in insurance. You’re going to pay much more for your retirement. And you’re not going to have as much vacation leave or sick time. That’s why we want you to work for us.”

What he likes best about serving on the Board is learning all of the details about insurance. He enjoys being a part of decisions that will help the State of Oregon as well as those outside the state. For his role with insurance, he welcomes member feedback. He says, “I often invite members to find better insurance at more affordable rates on their own. So far, nobody has come back to me with a better plan.”